Habbo silenced after accusations of improper behavior

A looming news broadcast alleging shocking details of sexually explicit interactions online spurs online teen community to place a mute on all users, stopping them from speaking to one another.

A generic scene of a Habbo carnival. Sulake

Habbo, an online community targeted at teens, is under fire for being unable to stop users from engaging in sexually explicit virtual interactions or using derogatory language, according to a post from online magazine The Kernel.

The controversy, which sent the site into a "global mute" that stopped users from communicating, was sparked by a news broadcast in the U.K.'s Channel 4 News about "shocking lapses in moderation of a hugely popular online game used by young teenagers, including interactions of an explicit sexual nature."

The incident has caused one of Habbo's top investors, European VC firm Balderton Capital, to pull its support. A spokesperson for the firm told The Kernel that the firm heard this information a week ago and that it "profoundly shocked" them, prompting the firm to end its relationship with Habbo's owner, Sulake, a Finnish company.

In response, Sulake CEO Paul LaFontaine posted a comment saying he was "incredibly concerned." He also posted in the company's blog today, highlighting Habbo's efforts at safety in the virtual community.

His comment on The Kernel:

I was incredibly concerned to see this report and to hear about the findings of the Channel 4 News investigation. As a parent, I understand the critical importance of making sure teenagers and young people have a safe online experience.

I was sorry to hear of Balderton's decision to withdraw its involvement, but my priority right now is to address the issues raised by the investigation. Since hearing about the report I have asked my team to tighten security across the site and to strengthen the user rules.

I want to take this opportunity to assure our site users that I will be working with my team globally to deliver improved safety levels across the community. Anyone who is concerned can contact me directly on Twitter @PaulLaFo."

Following the post, LaFontaine announced the site-wide muting on Twitter, angering users who created several chat rooms specifically protesting the mute. Many room names indicate they blame Channel 4 News for their silence.

In Habbo, users are represented by cartoon avatars -- no photos -- and can only share content by "speaking" virtually, according to LaFontaine's post.

The virtual lockout comes at the same time as another online teen community, Skout, shuts down its site temporarily for safety upgrades after reports of men posing as teenagers and preying on users surfaced.

 

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